Bees are already one of the most fascinating creatures on earth. Their ability to communicate through dance, the fact that they can remember the faces of flowers, and their tendency to be attracted to bright colors — all of these things make them a pretty incredible species.
But there’s one thing that makes bees even more fascinating: Do bees make milk? Spoiler alert: yes, and you can use it for so much more than just any basic applications. However, research suggests that they are not sustainable for regular use.
Let’s dive deep into the reality of bee milk and the research that backs it up.
The early research behind bee milk
It’s not a stretch to say that bees have been responsible for some pretty big breakthroughs in the food and beverage industry. Whether you’re talking about honey or royal jelly, these little insects have been instrumental in helping us to make foods like cheese and yogurt — not to mention sweetened spreads!
But did you know that bee milk is also an important part of this list?
In fact, it was originally discovered as a byproduct of research into the health benefits of honey. In 1881, researchers found that when they collected honey from their bees’ combs, they could isolate components with antibacterial properties (which we now know are antimicrobial peptides).
These compounds were later used as part of experiments related to wound treatment and prevention; soon after this discovery was made public knowledge among other scientists across Europe and North America.
How do researchers get milk from bees?
The bee is anesthetized using carbon dioxide, the same gas that’s used to put humans under in the dentist’s chair. The researchers hold the bee upside down and extract milk from their bellies using a syringe. The bee is then returned to its hive so that it can recover from its ordeal and continue working for honey production.
The researchers then extract the milk from each bee, which is about 0.5 milliliters of fluid. The bee milk is then separated into components using a centrifuge and analyzed for their composition and quality by mass spectrometry.
Which kind of bees make milk?
You might have heard that honeybees make milk, but in reality only the queen bee can produce this nutritious liquid.
The queen bee is the only bee that can lay eggs and she’s also responsible for making all the food for her hive. Because of this, she produces more than 10 times as much milk as any other worker bee in her colony. Queens make their own nest space, collect pollen from flowers to make pollen balls (which are then eaten by larva), and even bury themselves in dead bees so they can get warm!
The queen bee is responsible for laying all the eggs in the hive and making sure that her colony survives. She’s also in charge of producing royal jelly, which is a special substance that helps to feed young bees. The queen doesn’t ever go out into the world or get stung by anything (ever!), but all her other worker bees do!
The bee milk making process
One of the first things to know about bee milk is that it doesn’t exist. Bees do not make milk—they make honey. Honey is the product of nectar, which bees collect from flowers and then regurgitate into their hives. The process by which they do this involves a lot more than just sucking on a flower until something comes out; it’s actually quite complicated!
Let’s start with an overview of how bees make honey, starting with a flower that has been pollinated by another insect (such as a bee). As soon as pollen has been deposited in one part of the flower, it will travel through tiny tubes called stigmas and into another part of the flower where nutrients are located. These nutrients are used to create seeds within female parts called ovaries—once they develop fully enough to be considered seeds themselves, they’re ready for collection by bees!
Is milking bees sustainable?
First, bee milk is not sustainable. Bees can be milked only once a year, and the process of milking them is so tedious that it leaves the bees’ bodies depleted. The result: the bees die after one use.
But even if you were to disregard the fact that milking bees is bad for both humans and animals (killing them in order to get something we drink), you’d still have another problem: bee milk doesn’t taste like cow’s milk at all! It’s sweeter than cow’s milk, but it has an earthier flavor that many people find unpleasant—and since there are no nutritional benefits to be gained from drinking bee’s milk (other than maybe some protein), why bother?
You’re better off sticking with cow’s milk if you want something nutritious and human-friendly!
What is the downside of milking bees?
You might be wondering, “Why on earth would anyone want to try and milk a bee?” While it is fun and interesting to do, milking bees is not a natural process. It involves stressing the bees in order to get them to produce their honey, which can lead to poor health and even death for the bees.
Also, as I mentioned above, bees live in colonies with complex social structures; taking away an individual bee from its colony puts stress on that colony as well as the remaining members of it (you know how much you love when your friends leave you out of group chat).
While there are no real benefits to milking bees because it’s not sustainable or good for either humans or other animals (and plants), there are some cons:
- You can get stung
- It’s not sustainable or good for bees (or people) because it stresses them out and separates them from their hives, which puts stress on the remaining members of their colony
In summary, bees do make milk and it’s not as complicated as you might think. If we want to keep our bees happy and healthy, then we need to make sure that they have access to fresh flowers and water. Otherwise, they will not produce enough honey for us!